Short Story: Kavtly Communes With the Carag

Hello, readers dear! 10:30PM EST is an utterly unhinged time to post a new short story with no prior warning, but hey–that’s exactly why this one just has to do it! As Kairliina reclaims more of its lore from past writings about her own species of outer demons, the Carag, and dreams up all kinds of new ideas to mix in, she’s heard from more and more beings who want to know more.

So that’s how we get this story: both the coming-of-age story of Kavtli, an adult mage of the alien Anraed people, and an in-universe guided tour of what (some portions of) the Carag species will look like, think, and do in about ten thousands years’ time.

Estimate far from final, of course!~

Google docs link and attached Word doc provided before the in-blog text, as usual, for those who prefer those formats. Hope you enjoy reading as much as this one enjoyed writing! ^w^

Google docs: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1K10MDNNPNlfmWZwh5wwLFmEbTcvmdfOJeppaeHUKgy4/edit?usp=sharing

Kavtly Communes With the Carag

A short story seeking to touch on the future essence of the Carag people
by K.S. Urwollust

Kavtly first learns of the Carag three years into her summoning studies. Already she is beautiful, a curious and joyful daughter of the Anraed people. Her shimmering skin is a glowing blue-green like the full moon, her fronds stretch long and tapering. Every eye in the three rows running down her slender, tapered head shines gemstone bright, pinks and golds and purples. Her twin maws bristle with well-honed needle-teeth.

The Anraed rejoice in spirit-summoning from a young age. An adult at 32, Kavtly started at 10.

But demons are another matter. Fractious, willful, driven by impulses alien to flesh.

“You may call them good, evil, or neither,” warned her mentor Siyinvil. “Recognize that demons will do as demons will do. Embrace them for what they are, and you will prosper.”

So Kavtly prepares her invitation well. The Carag are a species of abyssal demons. Laws become vapor in their minds. Only whims carry weight, and they seldom answer a direct summons. She pours her magic into the artifacts around her, to activate and scatter their essences.

A hyper-dense shard of armor plate from the punctured hull of a star cruiser torn apart by overwhelming firepower. It begins to glow, red into orange into gold and at last blinding-blue white that hisses with an uncanny stench.

Ossified mandibles of a star-soaring predator.

Engraved inlays from the altar of a forgotten temple in the hulk of a drifting starbase, abandoned before it was ever consecrated.

“One story’s end is the start of another,” Kavtly intones. “New things begin where old ones die.”

It’s said one can only know abyssal demons by communing with them: walking and living among them, breathing in their ways, measuring by their own standards alone. Even this knowing only lives within one mind. Speaking is division. Divided, it is no longer knowledge of the abyss. So it is with the Carag.

The Carag are young, Kavtly knows this much. Younger by far than the Anraed. Younger even than most other demons. Just ten thousand years ago the first of them took shape and gave itself its name, on a distant world called Earth, in the distant Milky Way.

She too is young. She too is leaving old ways behind, for in becoming a grown woman of the Anraed her childhood has become aged and withered. Her old story is at its end.

Here is the invitation: Kavtly wishes for one of the star-demons to walk with her as her new story begins. Kavtly wishes for her new journey to begin among the Carag.

The night atop the ritual construct, a lone expanse of solid plate and stained glass dividers supported on many miles of spell-augmented girders, burns with heavy stillness. The warmth imbued in the relics by Kavtly’s magic radiates back and makes her muzzy. Drifting deep, drifting perilous. Asleep in the presence of a demon, invited and free to interpret invitation to a slumbering mortal’s presence however it desires: a terrible danger.

But the young Anraed feels so heavy she is light again, relaxed in the immovable mass of her body as it tumbles into its own sensations–bound for dreams.

Her thirty eyes open and she forgets for a moment that she let them slip shut. A curious form hovers before her. An eclipse-corona of scarlet rays spills from a tumble-bodied, three headed creature of asymmetrical sheens. It simmers with alien beauty, and in the lull of her slumber Kavtly’s lust makes her fronds flutter oh so swiftly.

“Tchastenadtha, nilm,” the Carag says, two voices delivering their words in many blends of tone and rhythm, all placid. Speaking at once Vulshiir, the oldest Carag language, and Mestras, the Anraed common language. “Speak and be understood, seeker.”

Kavtly opens herself to the moment she’s made, and though she fears she bubbles with eagerness to match. So she speaks with joy and pride when she says, “I am Kavtly of the Anraed people. I want to visit the Carag, to perceive you with my own senses and meet your essence with my own soul.”

Amusement radiates from the outer demon, and for that matter, radiation, though for now it veers away from Kavtly’s body and kisses the cool metal of the ritual platform instead. “Then you shall.”

A hook-tipped tendril extends. “Come. I will bring you to my homeworld.”

Kavtly’s gas-bladders expand, pulsing with beautiful lilac glows. She floats up until she can place a dainty frond in the star-demon’s tendril-hook. “I’m ready.”

The Carag phases across the seams between stars. Its aura pours bright and hot and dark and vivid with tangy tastes, moldy scents, ringing hymns of distant demon-singers. She glimpses a distant vista of black constructs branching out from a dour red sun. They sway slowly from girders in solar winds. Then Kavtly and her Carag guide expand out of hairline fractures through the fabric-that-isn’t, and hover together above a star-city.

Interconnecting platforms grow from iridescent eggshell-blue metal that grows in turn from border-auras of prismatic light that grow in turn from the abyss of deep space. The corridors shift at their manifold makers’ whims from enclosed to open and airless. Hazy atmospheres cling around concourses of quivering flesh-trunks, stretching up and down, where many-legged animals chitter and skitter.

Yet Kavtly finds her breath comes easy, laced with a strange scent she knows in her belly belongs to her guide.

“Please tell me at once if anything feels ill-wrought,” the Carag says. “Today is the first time I’ve replicated your homeworld’s atmosphere. Nalistra, I believe you name it?”

“Yes,” Kavtly says. She drifts alongside the star-demon, for her magic affords kinesis easily enough, toward a great inner circle arranged around many cone-tipped cylinders of increasingly titanic scale. Kavtly sees Carag starships for the first time. Blade-nosed living vessels with colorful wrinkle-fleshed growths in the seams of their shining engraved metal, glittering crystal slits and panes for their cockpits, and all sorts of trailing shapes extending their hulls into ever narrower and more artistic whorls and spars and under-trailing wings.

The fantastical craft flit in and out from many glowing hangars built into the core.

“What if you couldn’t replicate Nalistra’s atmosphere?” Kavtly asks, watching the star-traffic.

“I would have returned you to your home,” the Carag says. “And if somehow that failed, I would have rushed you to a place with an atmosphere you can breathe. Failing all this, you would have died, I would have regretted the loss of the moments we might yet have shared, and in time I would instead learn to savor the poignancy of our tragedy.”

“Doesn’t that seem callous to you?” Kavtly asks. “Or evil?”

“Carag seek to nurture the greatest possible amount of harmonious existences,” her guide finally says. “All things in harmony. These are realities we act to create. Creation is real, and literal. You may feel whatever you wish about creation. Feeling is also real, and literal. You may tell yourself, ‘I’ll be kind,’ and kindness consists of actions you can take. You may tell yourself, “I’ll be vicious” and vicious also consists of actions you can take. But if you try to do good or evil, you’ll find you always end up telling yourself that to be good is being kind or being evil is being vicious, and in that case, you should just choose to be kind or to be vicious. Here, I’ll confine this to an easy lens: do you want to die?”

“Of course not!” Kavtly gasps. “I like myself! I like being me! I want to live!”

“And I want to share this portion of your life with you,” the Carag agrees, “and when we part, I want to share in knowing that you’re bound for other journeys. I want to wonder about what you’re doing, elsewhere. If I let you die I’d only deprive myself. There are few deaths rich enough to make the one moment of death outweigh the infinities of life.”

“But if my death brought you enough enjoyment, you’d kill me?” Kavtly asks.

“Instantly and with the greatest relish,” the Carag agrees.

The young Anraed is quiet while she meditates on this. They move on.

“And if we became friends?” Kavtly finally asks.

“Fondness and friendship are also real, and literal,” the Carag says. “I always keep my friends alive. That is a selfful thing, beyond good and evil. Its own indulgence.”

She wars within herself, does the young Kavtly: a war between visions of herself burned and torn and desecrated in a million awful ways for the amusement of laughing star-demons, and visions of herself embraced and cheered and blessed by strange other-friends. Little by little the wonder of the star-city wins her over.

“I’d rather have the certainty of all these wonders,” she admits, “every trial, triumph, and terror your people can make for me and mine, than throw it all away just to erase a one-in-a-billion chance that your existence might mean the end of me.”

“Then this journey will bring you joy.” Blurs of red radiance and shadow-gaps in its rays mark the quickening of the Carag’s pace. Kavtly fills herself with the swelling thermal ribbons of her need to keep up. They afford her too little speed, and the star-demon rushes away soundless into the void. The gifted atmosphere grows thinner in her lungs. The magic of Carag space thrums, scalding like the whisper of knife, and she can scarcely grasp it.

Her vision darkens. The young Anraed flails her fronds at the vacuum.

Now she sees only a pinpoint. Into that pinpoint a red glow swells, brightening until it’s all but blinding, and when it flares brighter yet the rays break melting warmth into her limbs. Nerves scream the pricking of needles in her veins. She screams too. Screams just in time to hear her voice bounce inside the shuttle the Carag pulls her into.

The interior reverberates with the rush of reconfiguring oxygen generators. The airlock seals, and the many-bladed blue body of the pilot contorts around the cabin doorway to look back at the new passenger. “Welcome aboard!”

“I’m sorry,” Kavtly’s guide warps itself into disintegrating flesh-streamers of shame. “I should’ve realized a magic-user would find it impossible to match the speed of an adept.”

“An adept in what?” Kavtly asks.

‘My tradition names it simply ‘potential.'” Her guide resumes its full form. “The deep power, as the first Carag called it. The ineffable root essences of creation, each individual one making up one individual thing. All Carag nurture and wield the deep power of their own essences. We’re all mystics. I can create more magic if you need it.”

“Create more magic…?” the stricken Anraed echoes.

“If you need,” her guide agrees.

Kavtly divines no answer equal to that.

“I’m going to take a nice long arc,” the pilot says suddenly. “It’s been a while since I saw the city from the wistful distance of further space.” Thrusters roar, the shuttle leaps, the corridors, concourses, and walkways shrink with the tunnel-vision of velocity. A driven burn takes them further, further, far enough to see the blue haze of ionized gases wreathing every blade-faced promontory of the living city.

When the pilot wheels around, Kavtly’s breath catches. What appeared from its surface as a lattice of many great walkways now reveals itself as only the topmost span: a massif of glittering architecture atop a mammoth dark-blue hull. The harpoon-tip prow of the city-ship could split a moon on its ridges. Cilia hang thick at the front, and organic tubes ferry plasma bright enough to pierce translucent curls in its skin. Vast tentacles trail behind, longer and thicker towards the stern. In profile it’s like a colossal fractured knife with its various metal shards held together and merging with eldritch flesh.

“It’s beautiful,” Kavtly breathes, and it is.

“Thank you for your patience,” the pilot says. “I’ll take you to the core now.”

An equally zealous burn rockets them back to the city within minutes, and a final blast of thrusters eases their raw speed down. Gently-coasting shuttle flight brings them to the great core-tower. Disembarking grants Kavtly a chance to see the shuttle’s amiable slitted eyes: many blood-orange orbs in the flesh between its reinforcing hull-plates and circuitry. One winks at her as she goes.

She follows her guide through vaulted halls that split abruptly into directions that defy the external geometry of the tower, and she remembers the Carag’s reputation for hyperdimensional artifice. Balconies jut from doors that should open right through the outer walls. Fluted pillars made from solidified starlight soar upwards, sometimes to support the ceilings or great causeways, sometimes meeting nothing at all, and finally fading into the shadows overhead.

“We’ll start with the simplest, unless you have a preference?” her guide asks. “A Carag school, where the children of our people learn whatever we trust ourselves to teach.”

“Carag children, huh?” Kavtly muses.

“No,” her guide says, startling her enough she smacks into the spinal spurs of a passing exoskeletal star-demon, loses control of her buoyancy, and nearly plummets into a portal laid horizontally into a patch of tattered floor-plate for some inscrutable purpose.

“Carag is a species one can only become by choice. We give birth to, construct, adopt, or conceive children in our thoughts, yes, but when they enter existence, these children live beyond species and gender. We give them names as gifts. They may keep them if they like, and discard them if they prefer, as it should be with gifts. When they reach adulthood, they become Carag if they choose, just as they only take on genders if they desire to.”

“A species by choice?” The young Anraed mage knows many ways. This one’s a struggle for her to grasp. “What if someone changes their mind about being Carag?”

“Then they become something other than Carag,” her guide says, “either another species or a being that exists outside species, like our children at the start.”

This gives her more than enough to absorb while they find their way to a class. The Carag instructor–‘saalmiir,’ as her guide explains–hovers midair above a depression at the bottom of red-brown tiled terraces, hovering and holding the central spoke for a great web of visions in its claws. One depicts a city under sunset: great black domes and monolithic towers, raging fires climbing upward. Winged figures flit on the red sky around it.

Many cushions, chairs, and even a bed speckle the spaces around the instructor. Some form rows with desks, others make up little circles and half-circles, and many more stand scattered. Swift-rising hollows mark the cushions as Kavtly steps around the doorway onto the class-platform. It’s open to an utterly different starscape from the one outside the city.

Students flash away in colorful nova pulses, blip out to invisibility, slide through seams in reality, and melt into the floor as ooze before she can even internalize who’s there.

“Welcome, visitor!” the instructor calls with a bright double-voice. Its face subdivides into overlapping dark-crystal facets cutting out the suggested shapes of a fanged maw with a cleft chin and palette, and purple lightning dances through the transparent slime shaping its three legs, four arms, and two pronged tails. “Ozhriig sent ahead regarding your visit. Rest assured the students who disappeared knew you were coming, and simply changed their minds about staying to greet you.”

“You allow students to leave your class at will?” Kavtly asks.

“Of course!” the instructor laughs. “All Carag teachers do. I love knowledge and I want to share that love! If I convey my passion well, then my students will come to share it.”

“And children should grow knowing, from the first, that they have the sole right to decide what they do with their time and their forms,” Ozhriig says, crimson corona dancing. “To make learning a prison will make them reluctant to return once they escape it. They’ll grow into adults who hesitate to experiment with new experiences, and that means fewer companions for each of us in everything we do.”

“Won’t you have a seat?” the instructor calls. “Sit and see how I conduct my class.”

“And after that I’ll know how Carag teach?” Kavtly hovers side to side, uncertain.

“After that you’ll know how one Carag teaches one group of students,” the instructor says, becoming triple-vision with the watery distortions its voice makes in the space between them.

So Kavtly sits, and listens, and experiences. The students guide the lesson, asking questions about the fiery buildings and the figures flying there. They ask about whys and wherefores, and they ask the strange questions that young minds always ask. The instructor indulges every digression and change-in-topic. The lessons never come to a central point. Yet when the class ends and Kavtly lifts herself from her chosen cushion to leave, her mind bubbles with new knowledge about a distant demonic realm once named Hell, on the world of Earth where the first Carag made her name.

“This has been wonderful,” Kavtly says to Ozhriig, “but I think I know the direction I want to take this now.” Her fronds tremble with the fearful weigh of her desires. “I want you to show me these Carag indulgences of yours–mysticism, passions, and… violence.”

“We’ll begin with mysticism,” Ozhriig says. Radiant force pours from its form and rips through the all-fabric. Kavtly follows into shadowed halls where murmuring, kneeling figures feed unknowable commands through queer interfaces into cybernetic computers of grey matter, runes, and circuitboards. Others hover cross-legged, tentacle-twined, blade-caged in slow-motion maelstroms of the power emanating from them.

“A busy area, preferred by mystics who find the presence of others helpful–as one star sometimes draws matter from another.” Ozhriig pulses. “Follow me to the deeper paths.”

And Kavtly does. They arrive on a metalloid promontory looking over an abyss so darkly shadowed that she only knows it’s moving from the sensations of movement. There, a bipedal figure kneels. Her limbs take strange, fleshy shapes. Four horns sprout from her hooded, veiled head, adorned with whispering bronze chains holding chitin-carved sigils. She murmurs to herself and slashes her purple wrists repeatedly with a silver, crescent-bladed dagger. Her twin-tip tail gathers the blood and scatters it into the murk.

“Welcome, seeker,” the mystic says. “I am Yslait, a practitioner of the Lambent Way of the Quasar Dream.”

“The first Carag’s own school of mysticism,” Ozhriig explains.

“It must be very popular, then!” Kavtly pipes.

Yslait shrugs. “I practice it because I cherish its mysteries. An outer ixubus of the Carag people must chase her desires, else she loses herself. So long as I have a few fellow practitioners to banter with about my art, I am indifferent as to whether Lambent Way is popular or not.”

“It has always been practiced,” Ozhriig supplies, “but was onlypopular during the early days. Lambent Way mysticism is obscure and demanding. I study the Hadron Path. Simple, to the point–“

“Hardon Path,” Yslait snickers.

Ozhriig goes silent for several pulsating breaths. “A sex joke. Really?”

“Walk into my meditation for an object lesson to an outsider and I’ll mess with you if I please,” Yslait says. Then she chuckles and turns her speech towards Kavtly. “My dear kindred speaks the truth. I love Lambent Way because it’s obscure and demanding.” She holds the knife out. “Would you like a blood-augury, child? Come. Spill your ichor for me and cast it into my manifest abyss with your own fronds. It’s okay. I’ll heal the wound before you face any real danger.”

Kavtly stiffens. Dragging breaths. Building fear–how much will this hurt?

With a single rush she alights by Yslait’s side. Fronds seize the dagger and plunge it to a point in her belly where she knows only small veins grow. She stares at the warm purple goo that seeps forth and regrets it, doubling over with nausea.

“You must cast it with your own fronds, child,” Yslait reminds her. “Quickly.”

The ichor’s so thick and hot it feels alien. Kavtly’s mind screams that this should be inside her, and when she takes the frond away, neurotransmitters trigger a barrage of panicked thoughts about bleeding out beside two demons who could steal her soul.

Cool air caresses the flicking frond. Hot droplets disappear into the darkness. Yslait’s hand, such a strange segmented thing of five fingers and razor talons, pours warmth like a hot drink on a winter night into the wound. Nerves and muscle-fibers scream towards each other and entwine. Yet when the pain passes the ixubus’s essence transmutes the echoes into mind-erasing ecstasy. The young Anraed swoons, and falls panting into Yslait’s arms.

“Hmm… I see…” Yslait’s fingers glow with soothing nova, and she brushes the sensitive nerve-channels along the back of Kavtly’s neck. Comfort like sinking to a dream… “You’re planning a trip to the cluster your people know as the Vamanvar, to take place in two months and nine Nalistran days. I advise that you wait one year. The rites you’re planning on carrying out will attract a powerful planar being who happens to be in the area… wait…”

She waves a hand. “Actually, carry on. Its attack on your pilgrim-fleet will happen outside the space that belongs to your people. Therefore, I need only my own permission to take my cruiser flotilla there on the fated day and engage in a pitched duel, our fractal gouges against its rift-generating maws.” The ixubus clutches her talons before her and raves in a voice quaking with ecstasy. “Such sublime love–to give ourselves to each other for the mad frolic of mutual unmaking!”

“Abyssal concubi are uniformly insane,” Ozhriig says. “Just in case you were curious.”

“Oh,” Yslait croons, “have a little fun, you blood-red wet blanket. Slaughter’s a dream almost as good as sex, and it’s been too long since I experienced the savor of making love with my mates, knowing it might be the last time because we could all die tomorrow.”

“Um…” Kavtly eases herself away and returns to hovering. “What is an ixubus, anyway?”

“It’s a term from the very first days, the Earthly days,” Yslait says. “‘Ixubus’ means ‘one who lies beside.’ I name myself both an ixubus and a succubus, ‘one who lies beneath,’ just as the first did. Demons of love, lust, and dreams.” She grins, jade saliva dripping over black fangs beneath the gold-trimmed veil that obscures her eyes. “But especially lust. The best sluts are always the bloodthirsty ones!”

“I see.” Kavtly bobs and folds herself in imitation of a bow. “Thank you for sharing with me, Yslait.”

“My pleasure, glow-silk,” Yslait purrs. “Do come back and visit any time you like–or send me an invitation, if you want someone who knows how to treat a beautiful woman.”

With a peep of Sapphic panic, Kavtly zips out of the room and hides around a corner.

“S-so,” she says, when Ozhriig finds her at last, “I-I guess maybe now we could look at a Carag fleet? Of warships, I mean? Doing something?”

“Of course.” Ozhriig opens another rift and pulls them through.

They arrive in deep space, surrounded by near-total blackness with only the distant beacon of a red sun to anchor the reeling Anraed’s sense-of-place. Gunfire flashes and beams, eaten through into dark spots by their passage out of the smoke and gas-clouds that break up their light enough to make them visible, give the sole testaments to the shapes of hulking warships serving their purpose.

These lights, and the glows of superheated or molten metal: gouges like mangled stars bleeding through the void, and vast craters too far distant to see shapes moving within. One brief, titanic blue-white flare from a ruptured reactor’s detonation picks out the silhouettes of many smaller ships around a single shining spearhead. Its fluted hull and razor-elegant turrets mark it as Carag, but streamlined for war: no whimsy, only ordered hardpoints and sloped tiers for secondary batteries to either side of the giant main turrets at top and belly.

“Maximum reflectivity minimizes the damage of enemy beam-weapons,” Ozhriig explains. As it speaks, the enormous turrets on the great ship’s hull erupt in a rolling barrage of shots that tear reality itself wide open. The shredded edges of existence bleed blue plasma-jets, and the salvo smashes the streamlined shapes of five, ten, twenty enemy ships apart in a crescendo of ruin. Kavtly feels the Carag crew’s slaughter-ecstasy radiating forth even from here. “This battle will end soon. Few can match the Vodrii Saelvurati.”

“The what?” Kavtly asks.

“The Zeal of the Saelvurs.” Her guide pulses complex emotions: pride, amusement, just a little envy. “The heritage, that is, a Carag subculture, of the first Carag. They mark themselves by their special flair, or frankly, their flamboyance, and their love for behaving like flighty slaughter-gremlins.” Ozhriig chuckles at some secret Carag in-joke. “Still… one must respect their motivation.”

Condensed plasma-beams explode from weapon-banks along the Saelvur cruiser’s blade-like periphery, blue-white streams, and carve targets only made visible by the brief intercourse of beam and hull-plating. Secondary explosions ripple soon after, splitting oblong vessels apart at the golden-glowing seams slagged into their hulls.

“Hm.” Kavtly wraps her fronds around her. “I’ve heard this first Carag mentioned a few times. Where is she now?”

“The first has lived long, forever making herself new.” Ozhriig bobs in approval. “She mostly keeps to universes of its own private creation, these days. She visits us almost as often as we visit her, but always projecting from a lucid dream. Her power has grown vast enough that it prefers to emerge as a pinpoint projection from her core when it walks among us. Otherwise she’ll solve problems and find answers and craft constructs too quickly for any of the rest of us to have things to do. How then will we grow, learn, and enjoy our own ways of existence?”

Ozhriig pulses. “She would still preserve us from a peril we couldn’t thwart if we asked, of course. And sometimes it’s fun to experience her full power for a little while, just to bask in the raw spectacle of supremacy. The first is still one of us. This stands also for the other eldest Carag, comparably powerful. They withdraw physically, but spiritually, they still commune with their people as closely as any.”

“What about…” Kavtly thinks. “What about a Carag warship being built?”

Again, Ozhriig obliges. Like two leviathan ribcages, mobile assemblies of docking prongs, booms, and cranes pan slowly across a many-mile swath where the pinpoints of Carag artisans flit back and forth through the vacuum. Their craft-song pours directly into the young Anraed’s mind: lulling, wordless, notes long-held and blending many voices together. She feels the echoes of their psychic touch: solidifying spaces in the ghostly silhouette of the ship’s slowly-dawning mind.

As they give weight to its compartmentalized sectors, the star dock cranes glide into place and stretch inward to pour vaporized metals into the manifest blueprint.

“You build every ship like this?” Kavtly asks.

“Of course,” Ozhriig answers. “Carag-crafted things are Carag too. All our vehicles, and many of our homes and tools, have minds and essences all their own. So you see, every ship must be nurtured into being.” It considers. “I believe this one will truly make a grand battleship. You can feel it, can’t you? The poise, the inevitability, the patience that knows it only needs one touch to win the day?”

It chuckles. “Every young warship demands to be brought forth as a battleship. They all want to bear the biggest guns and shine with pride at their fleet’s center. But most find the ponderous maneuvers and obsessive attacks of the enemy more pressure than the pageantry is worth. In the end, Carag fleet composition sorts itself.”

“Huh.” Kavtly drifts a little. Her eyes pick out the hollows remaining in the slow-cooling completed work. “Hey, what about those areas? Why didn’t they fill those in?”

“Oh!” Ozhriig follows her pointing frond’s aim. “This will be a gestalt ship, then. The gun turrets and many of its other subsystems will be separate, symbiotic biotechnological constructs hooked into its hull. Each with its own mind and personality. All interfacing with the ship’s core at will, much like all the Carag in my home city are aware of each other and can open their minds to each other at will. Sometimes individuals, sometimes a hive-mind.”

“Will everything be its own separate being?” Kavtly asks. “Every engine, every monitor on the bridge, every bunk in the crew quarters?”

“Why, I don’t know,” Ozhriig admits. “Only the gestalt-ship could answer that. And it’s just entering existence for the first time. Dreaming right now, and waking slowly. I doubt that it knows the answer yet. Every gestalt-ship is different. And every Carag ship arranges its form to its own preference, just as all other Carag, and most other demons, do.”

“I think I’m beginning to feel the pattern,” Kavtly murmurs, smiling to herself. “Okay. Your starships are beautiful and eerie and your cities are mind-boggling, but that’s all pretty zoomed out. I want you to show me why Carag like violence so much.”

“Of course,” Ozhriig answers smoothly. Another portal. Another passage.

They emerge into a tumultuous landscape of dark night, scorching fires, and fault-lines in continual convulsion. Figures teleport at madcap speed. The arcs of slashes split the air. So many eye-wrenching, mind-twisting powers on display. A rain of eviscerated corpses splatters about them, and myriad bloods dapple Kavtly’s fronds.

“Oh,” she murmurs. “I didn’t realize you’d just… kill your own, outright.”

“Demons can die and resurrect themselves,” Ozhriig says. “It’s still death, with all its costs and unforeseen losses, but the Carag exist beyond time and scarcity. Many find the ups and downs of repeated death and rebirth lend a savor they just can’t experience elsewhere.”

“Huh.” Kavtly taps her fronds together. “Do I, um… do I have to make myself vulnerable if I want to… y’know?”

Ozhriig pulses with laughter. “Aha! Bloodthirsty, are we? Rest easy, honored guest. If any Carag bristle at the unequal treatment, they’ll simply tell you to ask someone else. Come. I’ll radiate your query through our quantum harmony. I’m sure it won’t be long–“

A bipedal winged figure crashes to the ground on clawed feet, another Carag with shapes akin to Yslait. “Greetings, seeker! I understand you wish to test your soul-palette’s taste for slaughter? I’m eager to oblige.” Slitted eyes burn in the horned silhouette’s head, each pupil ringed by concentric maelstroms of fiery phantom shards. “Here. Most of the women I come here to die for have their own arsenals, but since I’m sensing you don’t, allow me to make you a gift of this rifle.”

Large, glittering, its handholds reshaped and softened to fit Anraed fronds. Exhaust ports march up the heavy barrel at regular intervals.

“I would like you to kill me with it,” the shadowed Carag says, jovial as ever. “Do you need lessons in shooting?”

“Uh, n-no,” Kavtly stutters and hefts the hulking railgun. “I’ve had some training for an upcoming pilgrimage and general self-defense, I-I can shoot.” She takes trembling aim, but at this range, even the most fearful gunner couldn’t possibly miss. “What happens when I… y’know… pull this trigger?”

“I’ll die,” the Carag says, still cheerful. “A demon’s being reacts unpredictably to death. Most likely, I’ll linger in that state like a dream within a dream, layers and layers away from any reality, until I feel the desire to return. At that point I’ll reappear somewhere convenient and manifest a new form to embody. But who’s to say? Perhaps I’ll find I like the death you give me so much that I just… fade into it…”

The outer demon’s tone turns wistful.

“Okay, um… I think I can brace this recoil with my magic…” Kavtly pours bolstering currents of counter-force into her flesh and down her arms. Her fronds jiggle slightly with raw arcane power. One squeezes slowly on the trigger.

The Carag nods encouragement. “Whenever you’re rea–“

The railgun’s blast drives Kavtly back almost ten meters, plowing a furrow in the abyssal rock under her bottom fronds, and when her head stops rattling she sees the bissected pieces of the Carag falling to the ground. Its death-ecstasy washes over her. Seeping deep into her psyche. Filling her with warmth and drool-inducing lust…

“That was fun,” the young Anraed laughs. “Okay, Ozhriig–take me to a Carag orgy.”

Ozhriig grins visibly, a sprawl of jagged shadow-glass condensing within the squelching other-flesh of its face, and obliges.

The portal emits them into a chaotic expanse of contorting bodies. The smallest squirm as worms the same lengths as Kavtly’s frond-tips, legs and antennae and rippling arrays of forming and dissolving mouths and members plunging against each other. Often as not they use mating pairs and gangbangs of larger Carag for their beds.

And those larger Carag? They range in shapes from asymmetrical tendril-extending things like Ozhriig and winged, tailed, horned bipeds like Yslait to many-legged ones with secondary and even tertiary torsos, writhing sprawls of heads and genitals and tentacles plunging into and out of each other, circuit-and-flesh amalgams… so many different forms all groaning, grinding, writhing, thrusting and receiving, taking and being taken.

In the background and all around, forms turn with the false slowness of unbelievable size: Carag whose forms run from split-bodied star-worms large enough to swallow planetoids whole, to world-sized blossoms of colorful flesh, rift-maws and void-eyes, crushed together in the grapples of endless orgasm. The air itself blooms, shivering, with erotic visions and impulses. Kavtly’s mind nearly shakes apart, her senses expanding and expanding and expanding while she bucks and cums and oviposits uncontrollably.

“I t-think this might be a bit much–” she manages, and the instant the words leave her maw, Ozhriig whisks her away to the stability of an empty veranda back on its home city. “Woooo… okay…” the young Anraed flops on a nearby couch and trembles out the leftover climaxes inflicted by contagious Carag ardor. “Gotta… train up to one of those…”

“A thoroughly fair conclusion,” Ozhriig agrees, just a little smugly.

Minutes pass in silence, apart from Kavtly’s desperate panting for breath.

“Okay,” the seeker finally says, “uh… so… you mentioned that one can become Carag… if they choose to…”

“And if they mean to live among other Carag, immersing themselves utterly in their new people’s ways,” Ozhriig agrees. “Carag goes deeper than form, deeper than any custom you saw today. Carag are not Carag because we do these things. These things are Carag things because Carag do them. Carag forms are Carag forms because Carag embody them.”

“So…” Kavtly lifts herself up, once more hovering. “If I chose to become Carag, and kept my form just the same as it is now, I would still be a demon? Still be Carag?”

Ozhriig pulses agreement. “And the forms which currently make you Anraed would instead be part of what makes you Carag, yet would you be Carag beyond those things.”

“Hm.” Kavtly inflates her gas-bladders in alternating sequence. “Okay. Goodness… how much is left to see?”

“How much?” Ozhriig laughs. “We’ve barely delved into details on anything, we didn’t even address the topic of Carag kinks, art forms and movements, cultural mores… we haven’t talked about atemporal technology at all.  Reactors that violate archaic concepts about energy being neither created nor destroyed, yes? Pulling power from their own future moments which is still there when they reach those iterations, so the reactor’s power output has a linear but infinite rate of increase with no additional fuel needed–“

“I… archaic…? How is any of that even possible…?” Kavtly shakes herself. “And I’m guessing you have more things you could list?”

Ozhriig grins. “So many more.”

The young Anraed speaks wryly. “This was never going to end with one trip, was it?”

“It seldom does.” Ozhriig pulses. “What do you think–do you desire to become Carag?”

The answer emerges instantly. “No.” Kavtly grins. “But I have a friend who just might.”

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